An education statistic that should really worry us

The research group Minnesota Compass has posted a bunch of graphs on college graduation / degree completion rates in Minnesota.

One stat in that group continues to distress me: the low percentage (about 55 percent) of students at two-year colleges who graduate in three years with a degree or transfer to a four-year school. Here’s the Minnesota Compass graph:


It’s easy to think this might be good news ( the completion / transfer rate is higher here than the U.S.) but it’s not.

The Great Recession triggered a rush into the state’s two-year schools, with student headcounts jumping from just under 300,000 in fiscal 2007 to nearly 320,000 in 2011.

I’m generalizing now, but these are folks that I expected would have pushed the grad / transfer rate higher. Many were dislocated by the recession and went back to school to retrain for new careers and vocations to help them deal with the new economy.

Earning that two-year degree was supposed to be the solution.

We agonize a lot in Minnesota about high school completion rates and that’s important.

But we don’t pay nearly enough attention to the kids — and mid-career adults — who make it into college only to never finish.

It’s the worst of all possible worlds — thousands of dollars committed in cash and debt but no degree. In a future where many of the best jobs in Minnesota will demand a diploma, “some college, no degree” is not going to cut it.

— Paul Tosto

  • Joe

    I agree this is a problem that needs to be addressed, however I think you are ignoring some other factors. Many of those adults who returned to schooling midcareer left when the economy started rebounding. This doesn’t count as a graduation, but they might have been perfectly happy with that outcome. They thought, “Either I get another job, in which case great, or I stay and get a degree.” Secondly, and more importantly, many are still attending (20% at most institutions), and graduate later. If someone graduates in 3.5 years, they are classified in that category which you call the “worst of both worlds.” While it certainly isn’t ideal that they had to pay an additional semester’s worth of tuition, I wouldn’t call it an utter travesty. All that being said, this number should be much higher.

  • DK

    Graduation rate is a statistic that is based upon the idea that you’re 18 years old, you go to college full-time, you finish in four years, and you graduate with a degree. It is not at all clear that this statistic is meaningful for community colleges.

    Some students who go to community colleges go for one or two specific courses. They may, in fact, be funded by their employer to take those courses. They don’t “graduate,” but they were never intending to. There are also quite a lot of “certificate” programs at community colleges for which students complete their course of study but do not earn a “degree.” Some community college students are immigrants who are working on basic English skills and will necessarily take longer to graduate. Is that a bad thing? And, as the other commenter noted, a LOT of community college students are going part-time while working full-time jobs, taking maybe one course a semester. Why should we be concerned if those students do not graduate within 3 years?

    I’m all in favor of using data to ask whether public institutions are doing what they are supposed to do, but I’m not at all sure this is the statistic we should be looking at.